Jean Fleury, Born in Vatteville and financed by shipowner Jean Ango, French privateer Jean Fleury was Spain’s nemesis. In 1522, he captured seven Spanish vessels. One year later most of Montezuma’s Aztec treasure fell into his hands after he captured two of the three galleons in which Cortez shipped the fabled booty back to Spain. He was captured in 1527 and executed by order of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
François Le Clerc also nicknamed “Jambe de bois” (“Pie de Palo”, “wooden leg”) was a formidable privateer, ennobled by Henri II in 1551. In 1552, Le Clerc ransacked Porto Santo. One year later, he mustered one thousand men and caused havoc in the Caribbean with his lieutenants Jacques de Sores and Robert Blondel. They pillaged and burned down the seaport of Santo Domingo, and ransacked Las Palmas in the Canary Islands on his way back to France. He led another expedition in 1554 and plundered Santiago de Cuba.
Blackbeard was born about 1680 in England as Edward Thatch, Teach, or Drummond, and operated off the east coast of North America in the period of 1714–1718. Noted as much for his outlandish appearance as for his piratical success, in combat Blackbeard placed burning slow-match (a type of slow-burning fuse used to set off cannon) under his hat; with his face wreathed in fire and smoke, his victims claimed he resembled a fiendish apparition from Hell. Blackbeard’s ship was the two hundred ton, forty-gun frigate he named the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Blackbeard met his end at the hands of a British fleet specifically sent out to capture him. After an extremely bloody boarding action, the British commanding officer of the fleet, Lieutenant Robert Maynard, killed him with the help of his crew. According to legend, Blackbeard suffered a total of five bullet wounds and twenty slashes with a cutlass before he finally died off the coast of Ocracoke, North Carolina.
Henry Morgan, a Welshman, was one of the most destructive pirate captains of the 17th century. Although Morgan always considered himself a privateer rather than a pirate, several of his attacks had no real legal justification and are considered piracy. A bold, ruthless and daring man, Morgan fought England’s enemies for thirty years, and became a very wealthy man in the course of his adventures. Morgan’s most famous exploit came in late 1670 when he led 1700 buccaneers up the pestilential Chagres River and then through the Central American jungle to attack and capture the “impregnable” city of Panama. Morgan’s men burnt the city to the ground, and the inhabitants were either killed or forced to flee. Although the burning of Panama City did not mean any great financial gain for Morgan, it was a deep blow to Spanish power and pride in the Caribbean and Morgan became the hero of the hour in England. At the height of his career, Morgan had been made a titled nobleman by the English Crown and lived on an enormous sugar plantation in Jamaica. Morgan died in his bed, rich and respected—something rarely achieved by pirates in his day or any other.
Bartholomew Roberts – Less famous than Blackbeard, Bartholomew Roberts was far more successful, sinking, or capturing and pillaging some 459 ships. He started his freebooting career in the Gulf of Guinea in February 1719 when Howell Davis’ pirates captured his ship and he proceeded to join them. Rising to captain, he quickly came to the Caribbean and plagued the area until 1722. He commanded a number of large, powerfully armed ships, all of which he named Fortune, Good Fortune, or Royal Fortune. Efforts by the governors of Barbados and Martinique to capture him only provoked his anger; when he found the governor of Martinique aboard a newly captured vessel, Roberts hanged the man from a yardarm. Roberts returned to Africa in February 1722, where he met his death in a naval battle, whereby his crew was captured.
Charles Vane, like many early 18th century pirates, operated out of Nassau in the Bahamas. He was the only pirate captain to resist Woodes Rogers when Rogers asserted his governorship over Nassau in 1718, attacking Rogers’ squadron with a fire ship and shooting his way out of the harbor rather than accept the new governor’s royal pardon. Vane’s quartermaster was Calico Jack Rackham, who deposed Vane from the captaincy. Vane started a new pirate crew, but he was captured and hanged in Jamaica in 1720.
Edward Low was notorious as one of the most brutal and vicious pirates. Originally from London, he started as a lieutenant to George Lowther, before striking out on his own. His career as a pirate lasted just three years, during which he captured over 100 ships, and he and his crew murdered, tortured and maimed hundreds of people. After his own crew mutinied in 1724 when Low murdered a sleeping subordinate, he was rescued by a French vessel who hanged him on Martinique island.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read – Women entered the career of piracy as well (most usually disguised as men). The two best-known female pirates were Anne Bonny (also sometimes spelled Bonney) and Mary Read. Bonny grew up ferocious, and, unable to leave an earlier marriage, eloped with Rackham, with whom she was in love. Mary Read had been dressed as a boy all her life by her mother, and had spent time in the British military. She came to the West Indies (Caribbean) after the death of her husband, and fell in with Calico Jack and Anne Bonny. When their ship was assaulted, the two women, along with an unknown man, were the only ones that defended it. The other crew members were too drunk to fight. In the end they were captured and arrested. After their capture, both women stalled their death sentences (the punishment for piracy) by claiming to be pregnant. Read died in jail, many believe of a fever or complications of childbirth. Bonny disappears from the record entirely. Anne Bonny and Mary Read were undoubtedly the most famous pirates never to hold the position of captain; both spent their brief sea-roving careers under the command of Calico Jack Rackham. They are noted chiefly for their gender, highly unusual for pirates, which helped to sensationalize their 1720 trial in Jamaica. They gained further notoriety for their ruthlessness—they are known to have spoken in favor of murdering witnesses in the crew’s counsels—and for having resisted far more fiercely than their male crewmates when Rackham’s ship was taken. The capstone to their legend is that they alone of all Rackham’s crew escaped execution, as both were newly pregnant at their trial and their sentences were commuted to avoid harm to their unborn children.
Pirates of the Caribbean • Locations & Activities
Famous Caribbean Pirates